– Words by Sean Mcintyre Photographs by Don Denton
When Terry Raven stands at her canvas and prepares to paint, she likes to begin with a single, modest starting point. She draws from an idea, object or colour that inspires her to experiment and she sees where the ensuing visual reactions will lead.
“I put something on the canvas and what follows is reaction after reaction to what goes on it next,” she explains. “So when the piece of artwork is done it is as big a surprise to me as it is to anyone who sees it.”
Terry’s approach produces impressively arresting paintings that rely on colour and form to carry viewers on a journey into the imagination, an experience which is not soon forgotten.
Gazing at one of Terry’s painting’s is very similar to walking into the other of her life’s great passions, Duncan’s Pots & Paraphernalia. Terry moved to the store’s current site in the 800-block of Canada Avenue nearly two decades ago. The “new” site represented a natural evolution of Terry’s brilliant and spontaneous idea to open a kitchenware store soon after her move to Vancouver Island from Calgary in the early ‘80s. Terry says the decision was really made because she needed some cookware for her new home and couldn’t find a decent shop anywhere nearby.
Starting a housewares store dedicated to high-quality and fresh design in the Cowichan Valley nearly 40 years ago was one of those “ideas” that has inspired her to experiment through the ensuing years.
“I used the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method, because that’s what you do when you have no clue what you’re doing,” she says. “You learn to figure it out.”
A look inside the fully restored and repurposed, century-old, brick-clad industrial building that once housed enormous generators used to produce hydro-electric power is an invitation to feast on layers of colour, shapes and texture. Terry’s retail displays are a work of art.
Unlike the works she creates on canvas—which are permanent—the popularity of the store’s artfully arranged contents leaves Terry and her staff of six continually challenged to reassess and rebalance their display work. Just imagine someone grabbing your secret ingredient as soon as you’ve discovered the perfect dish, stealing the most memorable verse of your poetic masterpiece, or removing the most vivid colour from your precious tableau. Success can be frustrating.
“It’s constant because you do your ‘painting’ and then someone takes the main thing from the display and buys it,” Terry says. “And now you have to do it all over again. We complain, but it’s a good problem. It creates the opportunity to do it all over, and that’s what we love to do.
“Beauty is really important to us, and people respond to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a young person, an old person, or someone who is in no way artistic, people respond to beauty and it makes them feel good.”
Before unleashing her entrepreneurial zeal on the Cowichan Valley, Terry spent much of her twenties studying and teaching art in southern Alberta. Among the lessons imprinted on her in those formative years was the importance of telling a story. When looking at a piece of art, she says, the eye should take a trip. The viewer should enter in one area of the painting and be led around the canvas to an eventual end point. As with most everything else in life, art should be a journey.
Framed within high ceilings, towering windows and utilitarian brick walls, Pots & Paraphernalia is Terry’s artistic masterwork that has taken her nearly a lifetime to execute. Shopping here is about so much more than picking up a garlic press, dishware or a fluffy new duvet; stepping inside is akin to setting off on an adventure. One’s attention is subtly carried through the store from one display to the next. Here, a kitchen hutch with tea towels placed just so reveals shelves of gourmet food products. Nearby, a river of colourful fabric flows from mounds of pillows and luxurious bedding originating out of sight from the shop’s second floor.
Because the displays are so natural and pleasing to the eye, the casual shopper may fail to appreciate just how much work goes into each painstaking detail of the shop’s presentation. The products are Terry’s raw materials, but she selects from an impressive collection of countertops, desks and cabinets to make her work look its best. In a kind of mysterious alchemy that has allowed her business to take root, expand and thrive, Terry and her staff are a testament to the complicated marriage between art and business, between beauty and the bottom line.
“People ask why it’s so successful, but I just like arranging stuff; that’s just my thing,” Terry says. “All I really wanted to do is arrange materials and create stories and colours. The business end flowed naturally from that interest.”
Terry’s artistic approach to marketing and merchandising has earned her shop some prestigious acclaim. In 2018, the International Housewares Association named Pots & Paraphernalia Canada’s national champion at the Global Innovation Awards. That recognition placed the store among a select group of 27 housewares businesses hand-picked from 26 countries. Other winners included major department stores like the United Kingdom’s famed Harrod’s and Japan’s hip Tokyu Hands. The honours, presented at the International Home & Housewares Show in Chicago, were awarded based largely on store layout and design, visual merchandising, displays and the storeowners’ overall mission statement and vision, as well as customer service and staff training.
A guiding voice behind Terry’s philosophy offers the words of William Morris, the 19th-century British textile artist, designer and poet who decreed that anything inside one’s home ought to be either beautiful or functional.
In a world where the lowest cost is given highest importance and durability has become an afterthought, it would be interesting to hear Morris’ thoughts as he perused the aisles of a big box store or clicked through an e-commerce platform. Would he recognize anything familiar in modern consumerism or simply lower his head in resigned dismay? Fortunately, if he chose to visit the Cowichan Valley, he’d meet a kindred spirit in Terry Raven and her ever-changing tapestry of housewares, each in and of themselves small artistic wonders. The encounter would no doubt brighten his day and perhaps elicit a knowing smile when she tells him, “I try to get the beautiful version of the functional stuff.”